About Hannah

Hobbies include cooking food, eating food, reading about food, thinking about food and now writing about food. I am also into films, art, music and theatre. My day job is doing public health research, mainly in the areas of sexual health and adolescent health. But I have yet to find a way to bring food into this research….

The joy of real ale…

Over the last year I have somehow managed to get myself invited along to a couple of free Liverpool Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) events. They are having a real drive to get more women interested in real ale and they are doing this by feeding me delicious free beer (it is totally working). They are doing so well at recruiting new members (both male and female) that they have been awarded the national membership award. On Tuesday night about 30 women attended an event in The Dispensary to celebrate this award. As well as some tasty nibbles and a fabulous cake (see picture) there were five real ales to taste.

Now I am pretty new to real ale (more of a G&T or sauvignon blanc kind of gal) and am just beginning to get my mouth round the vocabulary but I will try my best.

We started with a nip of Ossett Brewery’s Silver Shadow. It was a light gold pale ale. It was refreshing and light with a nice hoppy flavour and very drinkable. Next up was an amazingly weird and interesting stout from Titanic Brewery (pictured). It was called Cappuccino and smelt exactly like Tia Maria and tasted like the barman had put a dash of it in the glass before the beer. And it came with chocolate sprinkled on top! It was quite tasty and a novel experience but not being a big fan of stout the smell was the best bit about it for me. The third of a pint was enough for me but some of the other women present said they would have it as pudding.

Decade from York Brewery (left) and Cappuccino from Titanic Brewery (right)

Decade from York Brewery (left) and Cappuccino from Titanic Brewery (right)

Next we headed north to the Lakes for Hawkshead Brewery’s Lakeland Gold. This darker more full bodied bitter isn’t really my thing to drink as I like beer as light as possible. However, as we discovered at another CAMRA event, this beer goes very well with cheese, especially strong cheddar. (If you haven’t tried beer and cheese matching before you really should – we are a little bit addicted)

Next up was the delicious Decade from the York Brewery. It was light blonde ale with citrus and floral notes, and I could have drunk many pints of it. So I was rather sad when I returned to the bar for a second pint to find it had run out. Luckily the replacement was as good, if not better. So the evening finished with White Rat from the Rat Brewery in Huddersfield. It was similar to the Decade in that is was light and slightly fruity with a lovely flowery sweet aftertaste. So the best beers of the evening were, for me at least, White Rat and Decade. A group of us are off to Keswick Beer Festival on the Jubilee weekend and I really hope they have one of those two on tap.

If you haven’t tried much real ale I can thoroughly recommend putting in some effort to find what you like. Yep, some is pretty unpleasant but some styles are fabulous, you just need to find the right one for you. I have had to get over my slight embarrassment at drinking half pints (it just feels so juvenile or like an old lady, and makes my hand look so big) but ordering a pint often means half way through I decide I don’t like it. If you want to try lots of different beers we would recommend the Roscoe Head (behind Hot n Tender on Leece St) as you can get a tasting tray of three thirds of different pints in a rack. Good way to try new things (and only small if you don’t like it!) For beer to drink at home Ship in a Bottle on Whitechapel has a great selection of local, national and international bottled beer.

Descriptions and drinking assistance from Lindsey and Josephine.

www.liverpoolcamra.org.uk
www.theshipinabottle.co.uk

Beer cake to celebrate

Visiting Brussels…

Illustration by the delightfully talented Josephine.

At an excellent Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) women’s event last night (review to follow) I was telling my friends about going to a conference in Brussels last week. I loved Brussels and had a great time but based on what I told them about the trip the ‘other’ Antoinette was not impressed. I left with the following scribbled on a bit of paper and promised I would share it on our blog as a warning to you all.

5 top reasons not to go to Brussels, by guest blogger the ‘other’ Antoinette.

1.They burn your hand with molten waffle sugar
2.They won’t let you through security with camembert
3.They suggest, as an alternative, you go and eat the whole camembert quickly and come back to security
4.They don’t provide crackers, pickle or even a plate to let you do this
5.They fill you up with excellent conference food [and waffles] before the airport so you don’t even want to eat the camembert

Spire Restaurant, Allerton.

Sea bass with artichoke puree, potato pearls, peas, carrots and white wine sauce

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit Spire twice in 5 days. The Monday night was our anniversary so we celebrated with the incredibly good value two courses for £14.95. Then the following Friday my mother came to stay and I had been going on about Spire so much she demanded to try it. Don’t worry though, I’ll only focus on the Monday night experience otherwise this could turn into a nine million word review with details of ten different dishes!

Prior to that week I had only been to this little restaurant off Allerton Road in Liverpool once before and I was worried it would not live up to the excellent experience of our first trip in January.

Walking in I was again a bit disappointed; the decor is a bit dull (polystyrene ceiling tiles?) and there doesn’t seem to be much atmosphere. However, I can totally forgive this as the food makes up for any shortcoming in the venue. Given that the set menu is so reasonable (mains on the a la carte are usually around £15-£20) the quality is exceptional. The meal started with acute five inch diameter focaccia which was sweet, soft and warm with a crispy top. It comes with butter and a deliciously fresh basil oil that I could happily eat with a spoon.

For starters I had a piece of wonderfully soft slow-cooked pork fried in crisp breadcrumbs. It came with a delicious sweet apple puree and lovely earthy mushrooms that added a great umani element. My lady friend had a salad. The crisp saltiness of the grilled halloumi was a great contrast to the sweet pomegranate seeds and a really rich, garlicky (but somehow not overpowering) dressing and crisp romaine lettuce made it into a more exciting version of a caesar salad.

For main course we both had sea bass with artichoke puree, potato pearls, peas, carrots and white wine sauce (pictured). It was £3 supplement but worth every penny and definitely the star of the meal. The fish was perfectly cooked with crispy skin that worked to enhance the ‘fishiness’. The sauce was smooth, creamy and sweet and the peas were delicious (which is a bold statement for me as I usually find them an incredibly dull vegetable) The potato pearls were very pleasing and soft but still perfectly round. The dish was topped with shredded radish and microleaves which added a great fresh element and cut through the rich sauce. Overall incredibly satisfying and I could happily have eaten two.

For pudding we shared an apple tarte tatin which was rich and sweet with a crisp base and generous chunks of apple. It was sat in a vanilla sauce and vanilla ice cream. The house Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is good and great value at only £15. Our total bill came to £50 which I think is almost a steal for food of this quality.

The second time I visited that week the stand out dishes werea rhubarb sorbet and the duck and the chicken liver parfaits (bothpure joy and better than any parfait I’ve had in France – they feel like they have been whipped for hours and are probably about 40% butter). After dinner we each had a glass of Californian Black Muscat which was such a revelation we ordered a second glass each and tracked down a bottle at Scratchards Wine Merchants the next morning. I don’t usually get enthusiastic about dessert wine but this was like damson gin, but smoother, fruitier and incredibly drinkable. The bottle in my fridge is already half empty.

I like Spire, I really like Spire. It is such a refreshing restaurant that serves good quality, exciting and reasonably priced food. It is doesn’t feel pretentious or add £10 to each main just for the name above the door. Being out of town seems to keep the prices down and it is better than all the chain restaurants in town that serve unexciting food for the same price. I have now been three times and only once have I had a less than perfect dish (a trio of fish that was a bit overcooked). This restaurant is small, feels personal and the service is friendly.

In fact, I have decided I love Spire and I am officially declaring it my favourite restaurant in Liverpool. We’ll have dinner there for my birthday I think fellow Picklers (do you mind if I call you that…?)

www.spirerestaurant.co.uk
Number One, Church Road, Liverpool L15 9EA.